I’m almost loathe to write this post, knowing how it will raise the heckles of many people. Ah well, what the hell, I’ve never been one to shy away from controversial opinions.
Disclosure – I was brought up in a vaguely secular Jewish household within a vaguely secular but also vaguely Christian society. Your context and situation may differ greatly…
I see that the perennial debate about the role of Religious Education within state schools is a topic of discussion once again. The Secular Education Network (worrying that there is even a group around that topic, but… whatever) is bringing a case that essentially alleges that the Education Act (which allows for Religious Education in state schools in a limited way) is in conflict with the Bill for Rights which specifically states that the preferential treatment of any one religion in New Zealand is unlawful. The case is going before the Human Rights Review Panel.
A couple of experiences that I have had around the topic of Religious Education:
- A lifetime ago, when I was in primary school, a RE teacher (who was, as they all seemed to be at the time, something of a devout Christian) wrote the word “Synagogue” on the blackboard. He asked the students who knew what the word meant and then proceeded to tell us that “Once upon a time there used to be people called Jews and this was their Church”
- At my son’s primary school, the pricipal wrote a weekly newsletter to keep parents informed of day-to-day goings on. One Easter, his newsletter suggested that we remember that “Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was so the world could know peace.” I challenged him on this and suggested that his statements essentially denied the validity of broad-based morals of a non-Christian flavour. His response: “..what I believe Christ brought to the world was the notion of forgiveness and loving thy neighbour as an alternative to escalating conflict vs the eye for an eye old testament modus.”
Two very different situations, a generation apart, but both pointing to the fact that there is an engrained bias towards Christian thought within New Zealand schools. Add to that Religious Education provided by external agencies (which are, of course, overwhelmingly delivered by Christian believers) and you have a situation that is far from a “broad based morals” perspective but is rather a forum for the indoctrination of young people into one particular religion.
I’ve heard anecdotal stories about primary kids coming home wearing caps saying “I love Jesus,” and other being told that “Jesus loves good children.” There is, in my humble view, no place for this in our education system or society. Parents who want a religious education have numerous choices around sending their progeny to schools that cater to their particular religious penchant, those who have either no interest, or an avowed antipathy towards religion should not be forced to have their children attend quasi-Christian lessons.
As an aside, my sons actually go to a private Prebyterian school – not for religious reasons (they are, after all, the sons of a Jewish father and are agnostic themselves) but for educational ones. They have to attend Chapel on a regular basis. But that was an informed decision by us and we knew full-well what we were buying into. That is very different from having religion forced upon our children in an underhanded manner.
Just my two cents.